WASHINGTON – Democrats brought the impeachment case against Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday night for the start of his landmark trial, but Republican senators have toned down their criticism of the former president and avoided calls to convict him for the murderous siege of the United States Capitol.
It’s an early sign of Trump’s enduring influence on the party.
House prosecutors brought the sole indictment of “incitement to insurgency”, making the ceremonial march through the Capitol to the Senate. But Trump’s Republican denunciations have cooled since the January 6 riot. Instead, Republicans present a tangle of legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and question whether Trump’s repeated demands to quash Joe Biden’s election really amounted to incitement to hatred.
What seemed to some Democrats like an open deal being played out for the world on live television, as Trump encouraged a rally crowd to ‘fight like hell’ for his presidency, clashes with a Republican party that feels very different. Not only are there legal issues, but senators are reluctant to cross paths with the former president and his legions of supporters who are their constituents. Security remains tight at the Capitol.
Sen. John Cornyn, of R-Texas, said if Congress starts holding impeachment trials for former public servants, what’s the next step: “Can we go back and try President Obama?”
Furthermore, he suggested, Trump has already been held to account. “One of the ways you are punished in our system is by losing an election.”
Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of February 8, and the case against Trump, the first former president to face an impeachment trial, will test a political party still struggling to find its way. post-Trump era. Republican senators are balancing the demands of deep-pocketed donors who distance themselves from Trump and voters who demand loyalty. A Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, announced Monday that he would not seek re-election in 2022, citing the polarized political atmosphere.
For Democrats, the tone, tenor, and length of the upcoming trial, so early in Biden’s presidency, pose their own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Trump accountable and their eagerness to keep priorities. of the new administration after their sweep. control of the House, Senate and White House.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans seem more keen on arguing over the trial process than over the merits of the impeachment case against Trump, perhaps to avoid passing judgment on the “role of the former president in fomenting the despicable attack” on the Capitol.
He said there was only one question “Senators from both parties will have to answer before God and their own conscience: is former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurgency against the United States?” ? “
Failure to conduct the trial would be tantamount to a “jail release card” for other officials accused of wrongdoing upon leaving their homes, Schumer said.
On Monday, it was learned that Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside over the trial, as he did during Trump’s first arraignment, which could affect the severity of the proceedings. The change would be in accordance with protocol as Trump is no longer in power.
Instead, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Who occupies the essentially ceremonial role of pro-tempore Speaker of the Senate, is expected to chair.
Leaders on both sides have agreed to a short delay in proceedings that serves their political and practical interests, even as National Guard troops remain on Capitol Hill amid threats to the safety of lawmakers ahead of trial.
The start date gives Trump’s new legal team time to prepare their case, while moving more than a month away from the passions of the bloody riot. For the Democratic-led Senate, the intervening weeks provide prime time to confirm some of the top candidates Biden nominated to Cabinet.
Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., Wondered how his colleagues who were on Capitol Hill that day could see the insurgency as anything other than a “staggering violation” of the national history of peaceful transfers of power. .
“This is a critical moment in American history,” Coons said in an interview on Sunday.
An early vote to dismiss the lawsuit would likely not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. Still, growing Republican opposition to the procedure indicates that many GOP senators would ultimately vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans – a high bar – to condemn him.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Said he did not believe the Senate had the constitutional power to condemn Trump after he left.
“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton said.
Democrats reject this argument, pointing to the indictment in 1876 of a secretary of war who had already resigned and the opinions of many jurists. Democrats also say that an account of the first invasion of Capitol Hill since the War of 1812, carried out by rioters pushed by a president while the electoral college votes were being counted, is needed to ensure that such a seat does not occur. reproduce more.
A few GOP senators agree with the Democrats, but not close to the number that will be needed to condemn Trump.
Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he believes that “what is alleged and what we have seen, which is incitement to insurgency, is an uneasy offense.” Romney said, “If not, what is it?”
But Romney, the only Republican to vote to convict Trump when the Senate acquitted the then president in last year’s trial, appears to be an outlier.